Tour de France

21 Oct

I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday in France. I don’t think I have ever been on holiday to another country by car so this was a bit different because we drove 1’000 kilometers to Bordeaux. The main reason was because we wanted to bring back some wine and that isn’t possible when you fly. It also gave us the opportunity to stop off in a few places on the way back.

Here is a bit of what we did while we were away:

Bordeaux

I went to Bordeaux last year and one of the conditions of going back there was that I could go back to eat crab at Le Crab Marteau. Dinner is basically a huge crab served with potatoes and sauces. Delicious! The couple on the table next to us were also British but she obviously hadn’t come face-to-face with a crab before eating it and actually hid the crab under a napkin so that she didn’t have to look at it!

We went to the Dune du Pilat, the biggest sand dunes in Europe. This was an incredible place to go to. The sand dunes are huge and great fun to climb up. It did start to rain a bit while we were up at the top and I can imagine getting caught up there in the rain wouldn’t be a great idea.

We visited Le Cité du Vin which I hadn’t been to before. It’s a museum about the history of wine and has lots of interactive exhibits and information about the importance of wine in French culture. A free wine tasting was also included in the price.

We also visited Musée du Vin which had exhibits about the history of wine in Bordeaux and information about how bottles are corked and how wine barrels are made. There was also a tasting at the end and we were able to learn more about how the wines in the Bordeaux area differ in taste.

St Emillion

We stopped at this small village for a day. I found the whole place fascinating. We took a tour of the underground church and learn so much about the origin of the place and who Saint Emillion was. Of course, the village only really exists today because of the wine industry and it isn’t uncommon to see buses full of tourists arriving each hour before rushing onto the next place. I might write another blog about St Emillion in the near future because I enjoyed it so much.

Lyon

We only had a bit of time in Lyon. It was a shame because there are lots of things to see here. Our time in Lyon was mainly to break up the journey on the way back. However, we did get to see the Roman ruins and to the Basilica at Fourviére which is spectacular. You never need to worry about going hungry in Lyon as there are restaurants on literally every corner. Once again the weather was kind to us and we could enjoy a long walk along the side of the river.

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Burgundy

We spent two nights staying at a chateaux in Burgundy. It was a great location to be based to visit some other towns. The village of Beaune was only a 20 minute drive and we visited Hotel-Dieu, a Medieval hosptial that was sent up help the sick and dying by a wealthy couple and was in use until the 1980s to look after the elderly. The ticket for this museum was also valid for entry into the Musée du Vin, which was another museum about wine.

We also had some time to visit a mustard factory. The Edmund Fallot museum still uses traditional methods to make their mustard and the tour was interesting. We could also taste some of the various mustards (curry mustard anyone?) that they produce and we got a few free samples to take home with us.

Staying with the mustard theme, we drove the next day to Dijon. By this time, we had seen enough wine degustations and mustard shops! They have a owl trail that you can follow around the city and see the main sights. So, we did that before heading to a wine expo that we had been invited to by the owner of the chateaux that we had been staying. All of the sellers at the wine fair were small, independent people and it was interesting to see how many different wines were produced in the region that we had been staying in.

All in all, a very successful trip. I personally learnt a lot about wine and mustard. It was nice to have a small break from reality and to be able to try some new wines and foods along the way.

Pumpkin time

9 Oct

As we bought a pumpkin last week at Jucker Farm, I decided it was finally time to cut it up and make something with it. Even though the pumpkin was one of the smaller ones, I knew that I would need a couple of recipes to use it all up. I decided to make: a vegan pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin gnocchi and roasted pumpkin kernels.

Pumpkin pie

This was a vegan recipe that I adapted slightly. I needed to purée the pumpkin first which mean steaming it for 50 minutes before putting it through the blender. I then added silken tofu, a variety of spices and some sugar (but not as much as the recipe recommended to put in!) I made the crust using porridge oats that I had grounded down to a powder in a blender, water and oil. It then took about an hour in the oven to bake. I actually ended up making two pumpkin pies because my baking tin was clearly not the same size as the one that was used in the recipe. My initial idea was for my boyfriend to take one of the pies into the office with him so that we didn’t have to eat both of them but that didn’t happen because they were too delicious.

Pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup is one of my favourites. I added some fresh ginger and served it with roasted pumpkin kernels and some delicious pumpkin oil.

Pumpkin gnocchi

I haven’t made gnocchi before. I have always thought that it was far too complicated to make it at home but I found an recipe online and it looked fairly straightforward. It also meant that we wouldn’t be left with 5 litres of pumpkin soup to eat. It turned out to be easy to make, although I think that I didn’t cut the dough into small enough pieces. If I do it again, I know that I need to make them smaller. I served it with a butter and sage sauce.

Roasted pumpkin kernels

As I don’t like to throw anything away, I decided to roast the pumpkin seeds so that we can use them on other soups and salads. I just put them in the oven with some butter and salt until they turned brown. Although you can buy these in the shops, it did feel satisfying to use every part of the pumpkin so it was worth the effort.

Now I am a bit pumpkin-ed out! I am tempted to go to the supermarket and buy another one so I can have homemade soup again. But as the pumpkin season will run until December, I have plenty of time to get my pumpkin fix before the end of the year.

The most wonderful time of the year

4 Oct

You might be thinking that this post is about Christmas. You’d be wrong. I am definitely not the type of person to be already counting the days until Christmas.

For me the most wonderful time of the year is when the outside temperature is cooling and the dark nights are drawing in. Because that can only mean one thing. It’s Raclette and Fondue season. Cheese is as Swiss as the Matterhorn and Toberlone and, since becoming a Swiss Miss, I am a big fan.

I’m so pleased that it’s that time of year again and I have wasted no time in tucking into the cheese. Of course, you can have Raclette and Fondue in the summer but only tourists really do that. Plus, it is far too hot to be eating melted cheese when it’s 20-plus degrees outside because you end up melting yourself.

To begin with I wasn’t too sure about just eating melted cheese and bread for dinner but I could eat easily eat it for breakfast now.

Apart from my obvious cheese addiction, there are other downsides to this time of year. If you are not careful, the apartment ends up constantly smelling strongly of cheese that lingers for days irrespective of how long you leave the windows open. You end up getting so used to the smell that you only realise how back it is when you come back home and smell how bad it is.

Therefore, it’s always best to be invited to someone else’s house or a restaurant to avoid nasty odours at home. Or you could do what we did and brave the colder temperatures and sit outside!

Things I’ve learnt in September

1 Oct

As it is already October 1st, I am a bit late with this post but it did take me a while to come up with five things that I have learnt in September. However, here are five interesting things that I learnt last month.

1. There are only two dates in a year when you can set off fireworks in Switzerland without a permit.

It’s hardly surprising that pryotechnics, like lots of other activities in Switzerland, are regulated. It hadn’t occured to me before some mentioned it the other day. Perhaps this is a reason why people really do go crazy on 1st August and 31st December here. It sometimes feels like being in the middle of a war with the amount of fireworks being set off on these days but I guess people are just getting their money’s worth and saving on some paperwork.

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2. Son always grow to be taller than their mothers.

Obviously this is only valid when the son doesn’t have a genetic growth disorder or something similar and when the son has reached his maximum height and isn’t still growing. I am convinced that this is true. I have visually gone through virtually all of the men that I know and they are taller than their mothers. I am so obsessed by this that I am tempted to ask men when I first meet them, if they are taller then their mother just to gain some more evidence to support this theory. If you know of anyone who doesn’t fit this theory, please let me know!

3. It is possible to make a cake without any dairy products at all.

I have been dabbling with veganism recently. I found a recipe for a cake. This recipe doesn’t have any dairy products in it and didn’t have any vegan-friendly dairy substitutes. It was made with baking soda and fizzy water. I was expecting it to taste awful but actually it was great and didn’t last long.

4. There is more than one type of pumpkin.

I visited a pumpkin farm last week and I was surprised by how many varieties of pumpkin there are. I didn’t know that butternut squash was classed as a pumpkin. There were even some pumpkins there that looked like if you put it in water you would be able to recreate that grainy black and white photo of the Loch Ness Monster. I don’t know what time of year that photo was taken but if it was during pumpkin season then I would say that this was a good explanation for the hoax. Anyway, I wasn’t brave enough to buy a pumpkin that resembled a mythical, Scottish monster, so I bought a regular Halloween pumpkin and I am looking forward to cooking and eating it soon.

5. I’ve taken the summer for granted… again.

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The nights are already dark and the weather is getting colder and the list of things that I wanted to go this summer (mainly hiking and outdoor activities that I won’t be able to do when the snow finally comes). I always have a good intentions of having picnics, relaxing back the lake and swimming in the lake. I have only been swimming in the lake once this year, which is pretty pathetic by anyone’s standards. However, it was a glorious evening when I did go swimming so perhaps quality not quantity is the best way to look at it. It’s now too late to do anything about my summer to-do list… apart from roll over the things that I wanted to do this year to my Summer 2019 list.

 

 

Swiss Trips

30 Sep

The last week has been packed with even more trips around Switzerland. Here is what we got up to:

Regensberg 

We went to visit the Tower at Regensberg, a little village that isn’t that far away from where we live. The views at the top of the tower were spectacular and we were lucky that the weather was nice and dry. I didn’t get too close to the edge of the tower because it was blowing a gale up there. After collecting some conkers from a nearby tree, we had a look around the village and had a drink at a local cafe sat outside in the sunshine.

We then went to Runway 34, which is an airplane-themed restaurant near Zurich airport. There is an old Russian plane inside (which doubles as a cigar-smoking lounge) and most of the seat are old airplane seat. I was really impressed by the food but it was more expensive than I thought it would be – certainly more expensive than what you would pay for something similar in the city. I felt a bit sorry for the waiting staff because their uniforms were what you might expect a cabin crew member to wear but, of course, they never go to fly anywhere. That would be my idea of a nightmare!

Thun and Bern

I have only been to Thun once before and that was about two years ago, so it was nice to show my mum around and explore a few more places. The town itself is a lot bigger than I remember it being. But it still retains a certain charm about it. The place was packed because it was the day of a local festival. I looked it up online and I still can’t work out what it was that they were meant to be celebrating. This meant that the streets were full of people with instruments and people dressed in traditional costume. It was a nice atmosphere and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

We stopped off at an Irish pub and had a drink and some chips. I have to say that they were the best chips that I have ever eaten while I have been living in Switzerland. They weren’t the thin types of chips that are normally served here and they had sprinklings of rosemary on them which made them extra special.

As we had to come back through Bern to get back to Zurich, we decided to stop off there for a few hours. We had hoped to go inside the parliament building but as Parliament was in session it wasn’t possible. We still enjoyed a walk round a large market and a hot chocolate in a great cafe that we went time last time we were there.

Jucker Farm

It is now pumpkin season and I have been meaning to visit Jucker Farm for as long as I can remember. I thought it would be something different to see and do. There were huge pumpkin exhibitions which were so creative. I have no idea how you would even begin building one of these structures, so hats off to the people who made them. I never knew that there were so many different types and colours of pumpkin. It felt like autumn had arrived, even though the sun was shining.

Of course, we sampled some of the goods at the farm restaurant and I bought a pumpkin to bring home. I want to make a pumpkin soup and maybe a pumpkin pie as well so I will have to look up some recipes in the next week. The pumpkin was only 2.5kg but I have a feeling that it will make quite a few dishes so I will need to make sure that we have some space in the freezer for things I make.

Day Tripping

23 Sep

My blog has taken a backseat for the past week but for a very good reason. My mum has come to stay for two weeks, which means that we have been busy doing some day trips in and around Switzerland. Unfortunately, this means that I haven’t had a lot of time to do any writing.

I really enjoying having people to come and stay because I get to go out and visit places. Even if I have been there before, the day is always different and I possibly wouldn’t make a This is what we have been up to over the past week in Switzerland and the surrounding areas.

Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Germany

As we live close to the border, we decided to drive to the Black Forest in Germany. It only took about 45 minutes in the car and we visited Tannenmühle. There is a huge trout farm there and we were able to sample some of the fresh produce in the hotel restaurant. I don’ often eat fish but it was worth it to eat there knowing that the fish were freshly caught. There are also a lot of attractions for children, such as a petting zoo, a big playground and a water playground. I was tempted to sit there a play in the sand myself but I was advised not to by my fellow day-trippers.

After a look around the gift shop and a short walk, we continued our journey to Rothaus brewery, which is the largest brewery in the region. We didn’t go on the free brewery tour because we have been on so many brewery tours before and they all tell you the same process of how the beer is made. Instead we sampled some of the beer at the bar and bought some beer to take home with us.

Konstanz, Germany

We took the train to Konstanz, Germany for some retail therapy. Quite of a lot of the shopping just over the border is cheaper than it is in Switzerland. I rarely go to Germany to get shopping because of the time involved it takes to get there and back but it has come to be a bit of a tradition to go there when my mum comes to visit. The weather wasn’t so great in the morning and it was really misty but the weather soon perked up so that we could sit outside and have something to eat and drink in the sunshine.

Mount Rigi, Switzerland

I have been to Rigi about five or six times since moving to Switzerland and it is one of my favourite places. The last time I visited I went with my friend, Jenny, who was visiting in January. The weather then was cold, icy, snowy and with poor visibility until we finally got to the top of the mountain and the weather cleared completely for 40 minutes. The weather this time couldn’t have been more different. The skies were completely clear, there was no snow and we were treated to beautiful views of the surrounding areas.

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After a hot chocolate at the restaurant at the top of the mountain, we headed down to Weggis on the train and on the cable car and then took the boat back to Luzern. We had a walk round Luzern and did a bit of shopping and then headed back to Zurich on the train.

We haven’t yet made a plan of where we are going to visit in the upcoming week but we are not lacking for choices. I have a huge list of places  that I want to visit again or for the first time. I will, of course, let you know what we get up to!

One more challenge completed!

16 Sep

I’ve been thinking for the best part of the last week if I have completed another one of my #40Before40 challenges.

I wasn’t sure if that I had done counted or not but, after I wrote down on paper the criteria, I am now convinced that I have completed Challenge #20 from my list: to throw a birthday party for myself.

I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday party. To be honest, I am not really a huge celebrator of birthdays not because I don’t like getting old, but more because it is a bit of a faff to organise and people tend to let you down. I thought I make the effort to have a party and see if this time that I felt different about inviting people over to celebrate.

In my consideration of the criteria for a party, I came up with this list:

  • Invited guests
  • Uninvited guests
  • Selection of food and drink
  • Birthday cake
  • A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday
  • Presents
  • A speech from the celebrating person
  • Party game
  • Huge amounts of tidying up

Let’s look in turn at each of these:

Invited Guests

Either by Whatsapp or by mouth people received an invitation to come. My original idea was to make handmade or printed invitation but then I would need to find out peoples’ addresses to send them. It was a lot easier to send everyone a message and get a quick reply if they were able to make it or not.

Uninvited Guests

There is always someone who turns up unannounced or someone brings some one to the party who hasn’t specifically been invited. In my case, this was the neighbours’ cat. As we had a BBQ, we were outside and the cat made an appearance. I think he was scared about the number of people who were there and he didn’t stick around for long.

Selection of food and drinks

If anything, we prepared a selection of food and drinks that was far, far too much. One fridge was full with beer and the other was full with food. There was plenty of food to go on the grill, salads, finger food and desserts. We had so much left over but enough room in the freezer to save it for another time.

Birthday cake

I didn’t plan to have a birthday cake but I was fairly confident that one of my guests would bring one for me. Luckily, my friend, Stefan, didn’t let me know. He made me a fantastic Spider-Man cake that I am sure that he spent hours and hours made. It not only looked amazing, but it tasted incredible too.

A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday

I was treated to Happy Birthday in English and in German, which I think deserves double points. I think I did have Happy Birthday sung to me last year but it is an essential part of birthday party.

Presents

I was treated to some lovely presents. The main theme of my presents was a high alcohol content. I think I should be ok for alcoholic drinks from now until next March. I will need to consume it all before I take on my challenge of not drink for a year. It seems more and more unlikely that I will be able to achieve this and I haven’t decided when to start this challenge yet. I have been trying to find a “good time” to do it but I don’t think that such a thing exists.

A speech from the celebrating person

I did make a small speech to thank everyone for coming and making the party a success. I was actually really pleased about how many people had made the effort to come.

Party game

There was a Swiss game of King’s Chess that was played in the garden area outside. I’m still not 100% sure what the rule of the games were but it involved throwing wooden blocks at your opponents’ posts and being the first to knock down the King in the middle.

Huge amounts of tidying up

It’s strange that you spend so long cleaning your place for guest to come round and when they have left you have to start the cleaning all over again. The washing machine was put on about five times, the floors in the apartment had to be wasted again, the recycling taken to the recycling centre, crockery returned to the right guest and tables and chairs that we had borrowed from relatives returned as well.

Looking at the evidence, it is fair to say that I have now completed Challenge #20 of my #40Before40.

I did genuinely enjoy the party. I wasn’t able to talk to everyone as much as I would have liked (which is the downside of hosting so many people) and it was hard work getting everything ready and tidying up but it was worth it and I would do it again. Thank you to everyone who came to join the celebrations!